Conflict Resolution & the Workplace

Updated April 17, 2017

Conflict is a circumstance that happens when one individual or group disagrees or feels frustrated with another individual or group. Conflict is an inevitable part of work life, although not all conflict is bad. Sometimes conflict produces productive answers to problems. No matter what the outcome, conflict often causes stress, which has detrimental workplace effects. Employees and their supervisors need to learn conflict management to resolve negative conflict and manoeuvre to positive conflict situations.

The Conflict Cycle

Conflict often follows a particular cycle, according to Louis R. Pondy's Theory of Organizational Conflict, although the cycle stages can also be used to describe conflict types that escalate to other stages. In the "latent conflict" stage, the conditions for conflict exist (disagreement, personality differences, frustration) but conflict hasn't happened yet. The parties become aware of the conflict circumstances in the next stage, called "perceives conflict" In the next stage, "felt conflict," the parties identify their own combatant emotions but the actual disagreement remains unspoken. The conflict becomes an open disagreement in the "manifest conflict" stage, when both parties and other people become aware of the dispute. The conflict ends in the "conflict aftermath" stage, when some method stops the conflict. How the conflict ends determines if the cycle restarts. Unresolved conflicts often lead to a new conflict cycle.

Conflict Resolution

Dissenting coworkers have a number of conflict resolution options that help the disagreement truly end in the aftermath stage and can even turn the clash into a productive situation. Coworkers could compromise, with each party taking some benefit and some loss. One party member might withdraw from the conflict, agreeing to end antagonistic pursuits. A forced solution occurs when a supervisor or a similar person insists that the conflict ends or offers both parties an ultimatum.

Stress Management

Stress is a mental and physical reaction that occurs when a person feels threatened or imposed upon, so it's often a natural reaction to workplace conflict. Well-managed stress can be beneficial if it pushes a person to develop and grow. But stress often has negative effects such as lowered productivity and work errors. Businesses manage workplace conflict and stress by clearly defining job expectations, allowing time off, using proven systems to manage company changes and through positive conflict resolution.

Positive Aspects of Conflict

If properly resolved, conflict can have a positive effect on the workplace. Conflict often causes changes to the status quo, which improves work conditions and encourages organizational change. Healthy conflict relieves stress by allowing pent-up ideas and emotions to surface. Finally, disagreement is a form of communication that can be just as effective as other communication types.

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About the Author

Roslyn Frenz started writing professionally in 2005, covering music, business ethics and philosophy. Her work has appeared in "Designing Wealth," "The Other Side," "Upstate Live" and many other publications. Frenz has a bachelor's degree in business marketing from the University of Phoenix. She is pursuing an M.F.A. in creative writing.